Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing in Different Genres


It can be refreshing to write in two or more genres. You don’t have a chance to get tired of one type of story this way and can switch gears to suit the genre conventions. However, you have to be able to keep the pace and that can be difficult depending on deadlines.

I started my career writing futuristic romance, a blend of romance and science fiction. After four books in this genre, I switched to mysteries. Why? My romances already had a mystery in the story and I enjoyed plotting them so much that I decided to try a straight mystery series. Marla Shore, my protagonist, is a salon owner and talented stylist who cares about her customers. A hairdresser has to be a good listener, so she’s a natural for a sleuth. She knows many people around town, and clients confide in her. With people coming and going all day and gossip flying, the beauty salon is a great background setting for my Bad Hair Day series. Plus it’s been fun to research.

Types of research is one of the ways the genres differ. For my mysteries, the research is grounded in reality. I include issues of concern to Floridians and other topics that are new and interesting so I can learn something from each story as well as my readers. I’ve done a lot of on-site research and personal interviews with experts.

On the other hand, sci-fi romance and paranormal romance require a totally different mindset. For weapons and spaceships, I use sourcebooks from Star Wars and Star Trek for inspiration. My WIP paranormal series is based on Norse mythology, and for these books I’ve also checked out esoteric topics like vile vortices, electromagnetism, and more. Thus these types of stories also require research, albeit of a different nature.

Focus is another way stories differ between the genres. Romance novels celebrate the emotional commitment between a man and a woman, and how they attain that commitment is the substance of the story. This reflects on gender roles in our society and basic intrinsic values of family and relationships. Mysteries, on the other hand, reflect the morals of our society with justice as the ultimate goal. Science fiction stories involve galactic-wide catastrophes or futuristic scenarios wherein our heroes must save the universe or world from disaster.

Setting, no matter the genre, involves world building, and that’s going to depend on your time frame as well as your category. Historical accuracy is important if you’re in a historical setting. Contemporary society requires meticulous research as well. For a futuristic, you can make up your own world or base it on one of our own Earth cultures. My latest sci fi romance, SILVER SERENADE, starts out on a desert planet and from there the action moves to a space station, Earth in the future, and three alien worlds where strange and exciting things happen to my heroes. I love writing these adventures because there aren’t any limits to my imagination, whereas the modern mysteries have constraints.

Genre Conventions are important to follow if you don’t want to disappoint fans. Romances conclude with an HEA (Happy Ever After) ending. Mysteries solve a crime and bring a criminal to justice. Readers of whodunits expect a murder to take place, wherein the puzzle is the thing, as opposed to the non-stop action of a thriller or the terror of suspense. By reading a variety of books in your chosen genres, you’ll understand these conventions.

Language also varies according to the genre. Romance readers expect a certain amount of sensuous description regarding the main characters’ physical traits. Put this in a mystery, and your reader will toss the book aside. Sci Fi/Fantasy has a language all its own, too. You can make up a word for your otherworldly novels but not for your modern day stories.

Generally, writers gravitate toward the genres they love to read. If you have enough time and aren’t crushed for deadlines, it can be fun to experiment. Writing in two genres keeps you fresh. Marketing to two different audiences, however, is a whole other topic. That requires a targeted approach to find the bloggers and readers for a particular genre, and this can be incredibly time consuming. How do you design your website if you write two entirely different types of series? How do you order print promo materials? Do you share space for your various genres or keep them separate?
That’s a subject for another day.

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Jacqueline Seewald said...


Wonderful discussion! Since I also write romance and mystery, I agree that one must observe the conventions of each genre. I do some mixing of the two and that can irritate reviewers. Many don't want anything that is "out of the box." But it is always most important with romance fiction that the relationship is foremost whereas with mystery, the solution of crime is the key factor and romance must be secondary.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Jacqueline, you're absolutely right. It's hard in sci fi romance, too, to keep the romance as the focus and not get carried away with complex world building. Meeting reader (and editor) expectations is really what it's all about.

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Hi, Nancy, great article and topic! I'm an eclectic reader, therefore I love to write in different genres. I love to research also. I started out writing western romance--was told the market was terrible for it and began writing medieval romances set in England. Fantasies. A futuristic--my first shape shifter story. Romantic suspense. Psychic Romantic Suspense. Then I wrote a vampire romance--the vampires were all evil--sold it. Then I began writing both kinds of vampires--good and evil, and my critique partners said I'd found my niche,but I was told that the market was already swamped with best selling authors switching genres to get on the bandwagon.

So I wrote a medieval Highland romance, sold it, still wanted to do paranormal, and Heart of the Wolf was born. And that was the beginning of my werewolf series--10 contracted books so far. Heart of the Wolf made Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year and after that, I just kept selling in that genre. But I'm eclectic.

I've just sent off one of my earlier ghost/western/romance time travels for consideration, sold another medieval Highland romance, and sent off a demon YA for consideration, and vampire romance for consideration. I'm thinking about a teen werewolf series based on my adult series.

Several of my readers read everything I write. So I keep my books on the same website. :) My only regret is the two YAs I have out, I have under my maiden name and readers don't make the connection.

By writing something different, sometimes you can find just what sells best. On the other hand, I saw reviews for one author, whom everyone loves, except she was trying to jump on a new craze, doesn't have the knack for it, and it flopped. If you don't LOVE what you write and are willing to read in that genre and do the research necessary like you've said, readers will recognize it.

In another best selling author's case (she spoke to us at a conference about it), she was a romantic suspense writer and her editor wanted her to write a vampire romantic suspense. It did so poorly, that was the end of that.

So sometimes writing in other genres isn't a bad thing. Sometimes it is! :)

Wynter Daniels said...

Good post. Sci-fi looks way tougher to write. There's a whole new world to build, for one thing. Kudos to you for mastering multiple genres.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Terry, you're right in that it isn't good to switch genres just to jump on the hot trend of the day. You have to write the book of your heart. You're lucky to have found your niche. I guess you believe in that old adage, throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.

Rosalie Lario said...

Good post, Nancy, from a fan of Marla Shore.:-)

I think writing in different genres can be a great way to keep your mind and ideas "fresh". But there must be the desire and interest to actually write those stories, or as Terry pointed out, others will be able to tell.

Terry Odell said...

I have a tendency to combine genres. I really like mystery, but I also love the developing relationships in a romance. I've written a couple of straight mysteries, and it does require a shift in focus. Love reading futuristic, but haven't tried writing it yet. Congrats on your new book.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Interesting topic! I also write in several genres. I think I'm pretty ADD-ish so a variety of genres helps to keep me focused, plus I just have many and varied interests. Nice to know I'm not the only one!

June Shaw said...

Great topic. Interesting discussion. Thanks for sparking my imagination, Nancy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent description of the differences in the three genres!

Allison Chase said...

Nancy, great discussion! I think the flexibility to write in different genres can really help an author's career nowadays. I should take your example and maybe branch out of historical sometimes, although like Terry said, I tend to combine genres too, adding mystery and suspense, and in my upcoming release, even a little sci fi, into the mix.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

You can also change subgenres within a genre without leaving your comfort zone. Allison, for example, could switch from historical romance to straight historical mystery. There is a lot of cross blending, as Terry O. said, but the focus of a story still has to meet reader expectations. And again, as some of you have repeated, only write what sparks your imagination. I enjoy plotting the traditional mystery but I also love letting my imagination run wild in a futuristic.

Deborah Sharp said...

Great post, Nancy ... you're such a dynamo. I can barely handle writing in one genre (though I do throw a little romance into my Mace Bauer mysteries). Science fiction is waaaay beyond my imaginative capabilities. I'm loving that you do it, though, and that you even have a handle on Norse mythology. Wow!

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Nancy: Great post. I never really thought about the extra research when switching genres. One good thing, though--if you write historicals in a particular era, you can switch from adult to YA a little easier, but of course you'd still be in an historical setting. Now paranormal, that would really require research for me. Enjoyed what you shared.

Mary Ricksen said...


Lilly Gayle said...

Your Bad Hair Day series sounds like fun. I write paranormal and historical and find historical easier because there's so much research available and less I have to make up. lol! But the paranormal is so much fun to create.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Try switching genres by manipulating just one factor and it might not seem so daunting: i.e. put a ghost/angel/zombie/elf into your next story, no matter the genre, to add a paranormal element.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Lilly, you may find historical research easier, but I could never manage having to be so accurate on all those details. I'd much rather make up ancient prophesies and rune spells or laser carbines and sonic grenades.

Leslie Wheeler said...

Great post, Nancy! I agree with you that salon owners know all--my hairdresser probably knows more about me than anyone else, and he actually turned out to be a good source of information for my recently published mystery, MURDER AT SPOUTERS POINT--so much so that I credited him in the Acknowledgments Page. Also like what you say about your use of mythology in paranormal romance, as someone who's used myth as a starting point for a bit of paranormal in an as-yet-unpublished romantic suspense novel with a paranormal element. And you offer a good distinction between romance and mysteries--Mind if I copy and post on my bulletin board as a reminder? I don't write sci-fi, but I'm sure that part will be helpful to sci-fi authors as well. Finally, I love your comment about writing in two genres keeping one fresh. As someone who's done both, I feel validated!

Caroline Clemmons said...

If a writer enjoys reading more than one genre, which I do, it stands to reason that we'll enjoy writing in more than one genre. I love several subgenres of romance: western historical, time travel, and contemporary. I also love cozy mysteries. As you said, it's nice to have various outlets to our creativity.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nancy! I'm still dabbling myself. Maybe I'm not sure what I want to be when I grow up--a suspense writer, a literary fiction writer, or a true crime writer. I think I'm going through writer's puberty. :)

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Nancy,
Great blog. You raised some very valid points. I write mainly historical romance but I have dabbled in a contemporary romance or two just for a change of pace.



Nancy J. Cohen said...

The general consensus is, go with what you like to read. And don't force yourself to write something because it's the hot genre of the day unless your passion shines through. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!